THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF TITANIC RECONSTRUCTING FALLING STARS

 

Chapter 2

 

Rust Flowers in the Turkish Baths

James Cameron, Charles Pellegrino

 

The July 2005 expedition to the Titanic was the first to involve, literally, a fleet of deep-penetrating robots. Jake and Elwood, the bots from the 2001 'Ghosts of the Abyss' expedition - then reigning as the world's smallest deep ocean robots - were preceded in 2005 by four newer, 'mini-bots,' able to pass through all but the narrowest crevices, into the much-speculated-about but never proved to exist anoxic rooms, with all water currents absent. Such deep interior chambers, it was theorized, might have forestalled dissolution, to such extent that all organic furnishings would appear impossibly intact, just as Arthur C. Clarke had said it would be, in his science fiction classic, 'The Ghost from the Grand Banks.'

 

By July 7, 2005, little more than a week into the expedition series, the reality of scientific achievement had, once again, caught up with and exceeded science fiction:

 

 

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The communications that follow begin as E-mail exchanges between Cameron and Pellegrino - a window, after a fashion, on the moment of a new discovery coming to first light - the realization of an unusual condition and an unusual process, deep inside the Titanic. [Note: Bracketed phrases and passages are necessary background information, added to bridge gaps created by the kind of shorthand in which people buried in the subject matter are often prone to write.]

 

 

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Saturday, July 9, 2005

 

Jim: What did you see?

 

Charlie: The four new bots are in trouble (three of them, anyway). Lost three of them inside the wreck due to electronic failures, though hope to recover two. Made five dives but very limited exploration done, during this first leg [of two expedition legs]. However, did manage to get into Turkish Baths for about one hour before vehicle failed - exceptionally good state of preservation - all furniture, woodwork, light fixtures and tiles intact. Like going into the tomb of Tutankhammen. Eerie and magnificent, and the colors were spectacular. This absolutely eclipses those beautiful stained glass windows and the standing woodwork [that we saw in 2001]. You must see this footage.

 

Next leg, we are going out with two of the X-bots plus Jake and Elwood. Not taking any chances on the live [Discovery Channel] show.

 

The live fiber optic link to the surface worked. We were connected for one whole dive, but unfortunately the bot failed to work on that dive. We are making some changes to the FO link deployment system, but it is basically sound. Hope to get working bots on the same dives as the surface link on the next leg [of the expedition series].

 

Later,

 

Jim out

 

 

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

 

Jim: How did the stays to the forward funnels look, up close? [NOTE: The relevance of this query can be read in Chapter 1, this section.] Is there possibility of anything that can be discerned, forensically?

 

By the way: Had fascinating scientific conference [about] rusticles with Roy [Cullimore], Lori [Johnston], and expanding research team Thursday morning [July 7] - - phone conference centered in London [began with condolences, on the morning's terrorist attacks in London]. Looks as if the Consortia [defining the rusticles as something that would, like sponges and corals, belong to the field of zoology, were their tissues not built from bacteria] - the life-form that is eating the Titanic - will soon be classified as a new kingdom: as tissue-layered metazoans built from procaryotic cells.

 

[NOTE to reader: Expeditions of this sort are so expensive that every individual dive is multi-pronged. A single dive includes multiple new experiments in ocean engineering, robotics, and even research under NASA and NOAA. Because the Titanic is visited annually, it has become the site of the most extensively studied column of 2.5 mile deep ocean water on the planet. As the following paragraph of the July 10 letter relates, the Titanic's rusticles - as studied by me, Roy Cullimore, and Lori Johnston since 1996 - turned out to be the first hint the oceans gave, that certain greenhouse gases may be increasing in the atmosphere due to disruption of the so-called Deep-Scattering Layer, by over-fishing. What we were seeing in the north Atlantic might be symptomatic of a broader biological chain reaction looming in the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and over parts of the Pacific. In 2004 an interviewer asked me, 'Why do you people keep going back to the Titanic. It's not as if you're solving greenhouse warming or figuring out how to feed the world or anything important like that.' I replied: as a matter of fact, we are. James Cameron said, 'Wrong answer! Next time, ask her, 'What does the Super Bowl solve?'' - C.R.P.]

 

Growth bands [in the rusticles] appear [according to results from experimental steel plates placed near Titanic and recovered years later] to be annual growth bands and it seems that they may be a good barometer of plankton balance in the upper waters, as a monitor of certain conditions contributing to atmospheric CO2 build-up, via a ballooning zooplankton population and night-time overgrazing of phytoplankton [plant plankton whose abundance and activity put the Amazon rainforest to shame]. But I suspect the loss of so many of the larger fish in near-surface waters - as by the 98% depletion of adult cod - might be balanced out via the expansion of populations of smaller prey fish, which should chew down the zooplankton excess [manifested as a 4x increase in the accumulation of deep ocean organic 'snow' on Titanic's decks since 1987, and by a corresponding increase in the thickness of rusticle growth bands [which might explain why the rate at which the rusticles are destroying Titanic's steel has increased dramatically since 1991] - A zooplankton Deep-Scattering Layer, chewed down to size by increasing populations of smaller prey fish, could correct the overgrazing of the phytoplankton CO2 sink... if we're lucky. The rusticles might help us to monitor the recovery, to monitor the health of the oceans.

 

See you later,

 

- - Charlie P.

 

 

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

 

Charlie: I forgot to mention the most amazing find in the Turkish Baths - the rooms are completely sheltered from any currents, and have very, very thin (about 4-6mm [about 1/5th inch diameter]) rusticles hanging straight down from the ceiling almost to the floor - we've seen these before, though maybe not so long and straight - but here's the kicker - a couple of them were growing UP from the floor, and ended in a flower-like cluster of tendrils, looking almost exactly like Triassic [just ahead of Jurassic] crinoids. Strange but true. No joke. I flew [the robot] all around one of them, couldn't believe it. Rusticles CANNOT grow UP. But these do. Figure that one out. I was thinking of Roy and Lori while I was imaging them. They will go nuts for this one.

 

- - Jim out

 

 

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

 

Dear Jim: I'm already going nuts for this one myself. But believe it or not, it's not entirely surprising. We have some [rusticles] preserved from 1996 that actually did grow upward [but not much more than a couple of centimeters UP], and in every other direction. They were not rusticle 'stalagmites.' They were sheltered in the curl of a completely twisted piece of steel. Similar structures were also imaged by the robot Robin [in 1993], growing inside the Titanic, on a pile of mail bags; but they were living under conditions similar to what you encountered with Jake [in 2001] in the forward crew quarters [no filter-feeding animals on the walls, slightly lower oxygen levels than elsewhere in the ship, and lots of bacterial floc - in places, more than ankle-deep]. The mail bag 'reeds' did not have a great deal of iron in their structure, and they were more in line with what might be called 'snotsicles.' This new discovery, in the Turkish Baths, confirms much that we [of Team Rusticle] had been mostly guessing till now, but could not be sure of, beyond speculation. A pretty major discovery. Welcome to the pre-pre-Precambrian. Welcome to 3.5 billion years B.C., inside the Titanic.

 

See you later- - Charlie P.

 

 

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

 

Charlie:

 

This was not a snotsicle - definitely rust orange in color, thinner than a pencil, about one meter tall, perfectly straight, dividing into three or four tendrils at the top which splayed up and outward, curling slightly, about 3-5 cm [2 inches] long. It was a rustflower. I'll see if I can send you some video frames.

 

- - Jim out

 

 

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

 

Dear Jim: From everything we already know about the rusticles, I very much doubt it's a 'snotsicle.' Couldn't be. I'm sure it's our old friend...

 

The more I think about it, these past few hours, the more fantastical your rusticle garden becomes. Some of the internal morphology of the rusticle has always seemed to mimic features formed by geochemistry - to the extent that I have often wondered where geochemistry ends and where biology begins. What you describe on the floor of the baths really goes beyond geology, undeniably - and becomes an analog of everything that came later, in the Cambrian seas.

 

How strange to think that we had no idea that something like this lay only a few steps away, on the other side of the wall, from where little Jake had gone in 2001 - and only a few decks below where we actually sat in the submersibles. How strange to think, too, that when the Angus camera sled came up with a rusticle-encrusted section of guy wire in 1986, Bob Ballard threw it overboard - tossed away what is turning out to be (as Roy and Lori can confirm for you) one of the biological discoveries of the century - tossed, completely unstudied. And he wasn't the last. Indeed, in 1996, Roy and I obtained all of our Ocean Voyager rusticle specimens from what Garskie and Livingstone had chopprd off the Titanic debris field hull sample (keeping us at bay while they did so) - leaving us only the pickings of what they tossed into the garbage bin or washed into the bilge. And strangest of all to think of the Turkish Baths this past week - a lost Edwardian world as pristine as the tomb of Tutankhammen, illuminated by robots that are themselves a glimpse of the world to come, and all of this framed impossibly by a window on the beginnings of us all. (From the Titanic to Europa and Titan, again.)

 

Is it possible to bring out a small sample on the next go? Even a small sample, without wounding the little beasties too badly. We really cannot confirm unless we have one - - only a centimeter-long sample should do the job: We can tell immediately in visual what we are dealing with... By the way, I like the name, 'rustflower.' Dying to see this stuff.

 

See you later,

 

- - Charlie P.

 

 

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Monday, July 11, 2005

 

Charlie: So far the only sample taken in the Turkish Baths is the one Titanic took from our bot fleet - bot 3 now resides there, in luxury.

 

- - Jim

 

 

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Monday, July 11, 2005

 

Dear Jim: When you send the next bot into the Turkish Baths, please try to pinch one of the floor rusticles. Well, you did ask if there was anything you could get for me, research-wise. (At least I'm not like everyone else, wondering about plates and diamond shipments down there. You, me, Lori, Roy - we'd drive right past the diamonds to those rustflowers - - which by most peoples' standards means we need to get our priorities sorted out.) Bot 3: Are you going to rescue the little guy - or is it perhaps better just to leave him there for futurity's archaeologists?

 

See you later,

 

- - Charlie P.

 

 

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Monday, July 11, 2005

 

Dear Lori, Roy: Oh, bot. OH, BOY! Jim has made wonderful discovery inside tomb of Titanic. RUSTFLOWERS! In the Turkish Baths! Sample needed on next [expedition] leg. We need to confirm that the floor rusticles are the same Consortium. Photos will not be acceptable evidence, all by themselves. This definitely removes my speculation that the bacteria might merely have been following rules of geochemistry in structure. Fantastic. What Jim describes on the floor - it really is ancestor worship now, this new science of 'rusticology.' They'll make a Buddhist of me yet.

 

See you later,

 

- - Charlie P.

 

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BTW: So, a Buddhist walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, 'Make me one with everything.'

 

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Monday, July 11, 2005

 

Personal Note: Could anyone who visited the baths, during that first and last voyage, have imagined that some 93 years later, a tiny machine beyond anything Jules Verne had imagined, would enter this room and find it still intact and perfectly familiar two-and-a-half miles down on the bed of the Atlantic? Could any of them believe, that in this room, would grow a biological discovery so pregnant with wonder and mystery, as to out-class even the dinosaurs? - - C.R.P.

 

TO BE CONTINUED . . . . . .

 

 

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